How did you come up with the idea for the nude revolutionaries calendar?
Maryam Namazie: I wanted to do something to support Aliaa Magda El-Mahdy and her “scream” against misogyny. I thought her action took a lot of guts and was important particularly given the military and Islam’s counter-revolutionary assault on women’s rights and freedom of expression in Egypt. I remembered a group of women who had posed nude for a cause and who became known as the “calendar girls,” and thought a calendar would be a good way of organizing support rather than doing an individual act of solidarity. Of course at the time, when I mentioned it on my blog, I hadn’t thought of how difficult it would be to find women and men to do it and also how hard it would be for me to have my own photo taken.
What kind of responses have you had so far?
Namazie: I try not to read too many of the negative responses as they can be truly vile. Nothing brings out the misogyny in people more than nudity. Nonetheless, I have honestly been surprised at the level of support, which has been heart-warming. I would hope that Aliaa has been as pleased with the positive responses as I am.
What kind of message are you trying to send with the calendar?
Namazie: First and foremost, I wanted to say that it is important to support brave women like Aliaa. I wanted to make sure that Aliaa did not feel alone because she wasn’t. She had tremendous support and I wanted to do something to show it. Of course nudity is not the only way to support Aliaa, but it was an important and necessary response in this instance, particularly given how it seems to offend and outrage.
I also wanted to state very clearly that there is nothing wrong with nudity. What’s problematic is the commodification and objectification of women’s bodies and not nudity in and of itself. Nudity, in the way that Aliaa portrayed it or is portrayed in the calendar, is deeply humanizing.
What I find most interesting in all of this is that opposition to the calendar comes not only from Islamists and chauvinists who think that woman’s bodies are obscene and that nudity is a violation of national “honor” and society’s “chastity” and “morality,” but from “veteran” women’s rights campaigners who equate the calendar and nudity with naked images of women in the tabloids. Ironically, Islamists often portray their vile politics as a prescription for the debasement of women in western societies but they hold the very same debased image of women’s bodies that they claim to oppose. The views of the calendar’s opponents (though they seem to conflict) are all rooted in a religious and pornographic image of women’s bodies as sexualized and obscene.
It’s an interesting contrast: using female nudity as a message against oppression. Could you talk a bit about that?
When you are faced with an Islamic movement that considers you to be worth half of what a man is worth and demands that you be bound, gagged, veiled and segregated, then nudity becomes an important form of resistance and dissent as well as solidarity.
Nudity is the antithesis of veiling. It is a very modern way of challenging Islamism and the veil. Islamists want us covered up, hidden, not seen and not heard; we refuse to comply.
In many places - from Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iraq to even Islamist strongholds in Britain and the West - it is a crime to be an unveiled or improperly veiled woman. In such a situation, nudity is an important way of saying: “Enough! No More!”
Was it difficult to find women willing to pose nude?
Namazie: It was difficult to find women for the calendar; many of those who had originally agreed to do it pulled out for various reasons, including because they couldn’t do full-frontal nudity in keeping with Aliaa’s original photo. Also, initially I had decided to include men but didn’t receive any professional photos which could be used. Finally, though, we managed to find an amazing group of women – diverse in their bodies as well as in their thoughts - to bring the calendar to fruition.
I am sure there were different degrees of comfort or discomfort with the project amongst the women involved. Some were more comfortable than others. I myself found it incredibly difficult to have my photo taken; it is possibly the most difficult thing I have ever done. I realized how deep-seated and negative some of my feelings were about my own body. It was such a painful process for me, but by the time the calendar went public, I was over it and no longer “embarrassed,” and for that I will always be grateful.
Added to my own insecurities were “pressures” from people who felt it was “inappropriate” for someone in my “position” to do such a thing, which only made me more determined. It’s interesting how uncomfortable nudity is the closer to home it is. Aliaa’s nudity “tarnished the Egyptian revolution,” Golshifteh Farahani, an entire nation. And as for myself and the Iranian women in the [calendar, we arguably tarnished the image of] an entire nation and also the political opposition in Iran.
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